Month: August 2010

On the Road 46 out now!

The latest issue of the journal of the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand, On The Road, is out today. It’s an election special and you can view it here:

It’s diverse, but all the articles articulate an alternative to the Religious Right.

Greenish: Why I Don’t Think the Greens are an ‘Anti-Christian’ Party

On their Facebook profiles, many people leave the field for their political views blank. My most theologically astute Facebook friend has ‘Jesus is Lord’ for both his religious and political views. He’s exactly right – our confession that Jesus is Lord needs to take precedence over any denominational/theological loyalty and over any party/ideological loyalty. But it’s not an answer that makes much sense to people; if they want to know at all, they want to know who you vote for, which political movement you align yourself with. So despite wanting my political views to be, in practice, ‘Jesus is Lord’, for the moment the field on my facebook page says ‘Greenish’. I’m not a card-carrying Green. I don’t agree with everything the Greens say, and I won’t uncritically support them. But so far, through eleven years of voting, I’ve always put their candidates first.

It’s not a popular position for a Christian; indeed, for most evangelical, pentecostal and fundamentalist Christians, it’s unimaginable. A website called One Vote run out of Perth is urging Christians not to vote for ‘anti-Christian parties like the Greens’ (2010, section 3). I’m not writing this article to urge you to vote for Greens, but to explore why, as a Christian, I am voting for an ‘anti-Christian’ party.

Interestingly, in an article in the Australian on 12 June 2010, columnist Angela Shanahan writes:

…Christians, like most people, have Right sympathies and Left sympathies, and the factors that inform their votes can range beyond those boundaries.

I think she’s right about that, although having come of age in the Howard years, I’d like to imagine the Right sympathies in me are confined to my little finger, or somewhere else unimportant. But despite agreeing with her there, the rest of the article challenges my ‘greenish’ sympathies.

The title of her article gives away her central message—‘Christians must boost immunity to Greens virus’. Shanahan describes ethicist (and – I didn’t realise this – former Greens candidate) Peter Singer as the ‘philosophical godfather of the Australian Greens’. She is warning ‘the left-leaning Christian humanitarian brigade’ that supporting the Greens means supporting Singer’s explicitly anti-Christian philosophy:

The new ‘green ethic’ according to Singer, directly contradicts the old Christian, biblically based ethic of man [sic] at the centre of creation.

What is important to Brown and Singer is to establish the green philosophy as an alternative to the traditional Christian view: ‘an alternative tradition’, a green ethic that is concerned for ‘the interests of individual non-human animals’.

The non-human centred view of the world leads the Greens, according to Shanahan, to have too much respect for animals while lacking the respect for the sanctity of human life which presumably Labor and Liberal are meant to demonstrate.

In Singer’s account, endorsed by Shanahan, the philosophical basis of both the Liberal and Labor parties is essentially Christian, simply by placing humans at the centre of creation. They are correct in so far as the Bible’s account of the world does place humanity at the centre of creation – as caretakers of creation, we should note. The Greens do not necessarily place humans at the centre of creation, but they do show more concern for being good caretakers of creation than the other parties. But this is only a small part of what a truly Christian ethic might look like anyway. For Anabaptists, a Christian ethic is not the worldview which Western civilisation has been operating under for centuries, now under threat by godless Greens.

A fully Christian ethic can only be embodied in a community of disciples who are following Jesus – a community living the practices John Yoder spells out in Body Politics. But some of the themes I realistically hope to see in a Christ-like ethic in parliamentary politics are:

  • a concern for the marginalised and downtrodden
  • love for enemies and a desire to make peace, not war
  • contentment with living simply
  • an attempt to speak plainly rather than ‘spinning’ everything

I see these things most strongly in the Greens. They are the ones speaking out most strongly for asylum seekers, the homeless and indigenous people. They are the ones who opposed the Iraq War the most strongly and have a reduction in military expenditure as one of their goals (The Australian Greens 2010). They are the ones rejecting the gospel of eternal economic growth at any cost. And they are the ones who seem least manipulative in their media dealings. They also see climate change as an urgent problem, living up to Kevin Rudd’s claim that it is the ‘great moral challenge of our time’. These are all such important policy and ideological issues for me that I’m prepared to overlook my disagreement with Green policy on abortion.

The Greens are also criticised by Christians for their strong stance on secularisation. Anabaptists would have sympathy with a Green critique of Constantinian notions of a ‘Christian country’. Does praying the Lord’s Prayer before parliament make parliament more Christian, or weaken the radical nature of the prayer? But what about chaplaincy in schools, which Greens have said should be replaced with counsellors? (Although it doesn’t seem to be part of their official policy.) I think chaplains do good work in schools, and I wouldn’t be supporting moves to dismantle the program. Yet there is a lot to explore in the issue about church and state for Anabaptists. It is another area where I might be at odds with the Green policy, but still not strongly enough to turn me away from them.

I find it upsetting that a party which stands firmly against greed, militarism and injustice can be labelled as ‘anti-Christian’. I hope that Angela Shanahan’s fears come true, and there’s a growing body of Christians who succumb to the green virus. Not completely, but just enough to be ‘greenish’.


The Australian Greens 2010, Peace and Security, The Greens, viewed 14 August 2010, <;.

One Vote 2010, Please Vote For Someone With Christian Values! , One Vote, viewed 14 August 2010, <>.

Shanahan, A 2010, “Christians Must Boost Immunity to Greens Virus”, The Australian, 12 June 2010, viewed 14 August 2010, <>.

Yoder, J 1992, Body Politics, Herald Press, Scottdale.

For further reading, see Green candidate Jim Reiher’s article, ‘Who should a Christian Vote For?’ John Mark Ministries <>.

Are Not Soldiers In Need of the Gospel?

A quote from the appendix to Guy Hershberger’s 1969 3rd edn of War, Peace and NonResistance, where he answers various practical objections.

13. Are Not Soliders in Need of the Gospel? Therefore Does Not Army Service, Especially Service as an Army Chaplain, Provide a Fine Opportunity to Testify for Christ?

It is true that the soldier needs the Gospel as much as any other man, and that the nonresistant Christian should not hesitate to bring it to him if he can do so without being part of the military organization. But to be a member of an organization whose task it is to kill would certainly disqualify one to preach the gospel of love and nonresistance. (p. 314)

I wish he had expanded on his answer at much greater length. But a nice start.

Listening to a military chaplain

Yesterday at church a military chaplain spoke about his work and I’m still feeling upset.

The slideshow had photos of all the chaplains in army fatigues, and of soldiers they were ministering to posing with large guns. Then a photo of a group in army fatigues praying, presumably before going out to do their duty.

I tried to keep my mouth shut, but I spoke up during the talk when he brought Jesus into it, relating how he was giving a sermon to military chaplains during the Iraq War about how they needed to follow the way of Jesus – including, he said, loving your enemy! I don’t understand how you can be giving solace and support to an invading army and talking about loving your enemy.

I think from his perspective he sees chaplains as a restraining hand on soldiers, keeping them comforted and in good mental and spiritual health so they don’t commit war crimes or atrocities, so that in the heat of the moment they don’t shoot civilians.

But I think war crimes and civilian deaths are not an aberration but an inevitable consequence of giving people guns and trying to take over a country or even trying to ‘keep the peace’ by eliminating insurgency. (Try separating insurgents and civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan anyway.)
The chaplain was gracious, and let me ask a question at the end. I asked how, even standing in the just war tradition as he must, he can embed himself with a military force which is fighting wars which do not meet the just war criteria. (And, I wish I’d added, have killed one million people, between the Iraq and Afghanistan War, according to some estimates.)

He said that under the Geneva Convention he is a non-combatant.

I find this unconvincing; you’re in military uniform and you’re supporting troops, meeting their spiritual needs, and thus lending legitimacy to what they’re doing.

I think all disciples of Christ should refuse to co-operate with the military, in every country.

I hate making a show of myself these days  – but I couldn’t let this pass without comment.

I thought that I’d found a church which would be broadly pacifist in outlook. Someone told me that it is important to the church to hear different viewpoints, and hence have a military chaplain speaking. But support for the military gets heard at every church in Perth. I don’t know of pacifist churches in Perth, except the Quakers and perhaps Wembley Downs Church of Christ. And the Peace Tree Community, who are sort of a church. There should be at least a few churches in Perth where non-violence is a non-negotiable, where it’s seen as integral to discipleship. Where we don’t just politely say helping troops is a good ministry to have, but where we say that’s not what Jesus wants.